Direct mail campaigns tied to jobs in progress, special events, programs in a showroom, or energy conservation or seasonal issues usually have an improved return.

Strong Controls Be aware that leads developed by direct mail require a strong control in their disposition, from confirmation to closing.

Let's go back to our original example. Say 15,000 direct mail pieces are sent at $1 each. These produce 100 raw leads, which works out to 90 net leads. A strong confirmation process would result in 90% of the net leads — 82 of them — being issued as appointments. Let's then say that 80% of the appointments — 65 — turn into presentations. (This figure is probably higher than that at the average company.) Let's say the close rate on those presentations is 25%, resulting in 16 gross sales, for total sales of $128,000.

But … 2 of those sales are cancelled, and 2 more are credit rejects. That gives us 12 net sales and $96,000 worth of business. That would make for a 16% marketing investment. Clearly, the efficiency of the salespeople handling the leads is a major factor in making direct mail work for your company.

Multi-task Marketing Beyond getting the reader's attention, a direct mail program tied into another marketing format increases return. As an example, if you've just come out of a home show and you're using that list coupled with an existing list of prospects, plus names from an area in which you have jobs in progress, and there's a bonus or a savings incentive involved, you'll usually increase your lead return.

If the area in which a job is being installed received door hangers, followed four days later by a mail piece, and then a well-thought-out and scripted canvassing program, your return may get even better.

In this age of sophisticated computers and software, compiling your own mailing list is simpler than ever. It's not complicated to expand your database. Moreover, inexpensive color printing, as well as the ease of acquiring graphics, continue to make direct mail a viable lead source.

—Dave Yoho is a consultant to the home improvement industry. His book, Have A Great Year Every Year, is available in major bookstores., 703.591.2490.